Kevin Cole YAM’s Studio Tour
Young Affiliates of the Mint join Kevin Cole (virtually) for another studio tour. Cole was featured in the Young Affiliates juried show “Coined in the South” in 2019. His work is included in more than 3,600 public, private, and corporate collections throughout the United States and abroad (Michael Jordan owns one of his pieces!). Watch to hear about some of Kevin’s latest work and the inspiration behind some of his best known pieces.
Summer Wheat’s monumental Foragers underscores the Mint’s ongoing commitment to women artists, perspectives historically underrepresented in museums
By Michael J. Solender
Uptown visitors meet with a fresh sensory experience this fall as Mint Museum Uptown reopens its doors following the Covid-mandated lockdown. As guests enter the towering glass-paneled Robert Haywood Morrison Atrium, they’re enveloped in warm jewel-toned light bathing the space of the new 96-panel “stained glass” installation Foragers by contemporary American artist Summer Wheat.
And while the quiet beauty of hand-drawn, collaged and placed colored vinyl panels encourage many to slow their pace and reflect in the grandeur, the imagery of strong, powerful women, taking on traditional male roles of hunters and providers, makes a clear and confident statement—women are represented on their own terms, making vital contributions.
The messaging is not accidental. Wheat’s work is deliberate in pushing back on gender objectification and unidimensional portrayal often depicted in museum collections. “Histories we tell, and the histories told to us are never really true,” Wheat says, her slight Oklahoma drawl elongating her cadence. “They’re only telling one side of the story, and there’s a lot that’s left out.”
Wheat, a mid-career artist whose work has been displayed in museums only within the past few years, is bucking a trend unfavorable to women. Just 11 percent of all acquisitions and 14 percent of exhibitions at 26 prominent American museums over the past decade were of work by female artists, according to a recent study by art market information company Artnet.
Recognizing this historical underrepresentation of women’s voices on public display, the Mint is leading the way to better balance the scales. “We have a strong community partner and advocate in Wells Fargo whose values align so closely with the museum on this important social and cultural issue,” says Todd Herman, Mint Museum President & CEO, “Something we really admire and treasure in the relationship we’ve had with Wells Fargo is they collaborate with us and push us further in ways that make the community better. Their Women Artist Fund and their support of our Foragers installation is a wonderful example of that.”
Charlotte knows Wells Fargo as a significant community partner and stalwart investor in our region’s diversity and success. Their foundation focuses on projects and innovation at the community level such as awareness and social change, increasing housing affordability, and access to capital for businesses. Last year, they contributed more than $14 million in support of projects and programing in the Charlotte region. In addition to programmatic work with quantitative measure, like the number of low-income individuals placed into safe and affordable housing, a component of the foundation’s work focuses on bringing perspectives and understanding to social issues through the arts.
“As company, we’re one of the largest small business lenders to women owned businesses,” says Jay Everette, Wells Fargo’s senior vice president of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility. “With the arts and culture sector of our [philanthropic] work, we realize putting a focus on female artists helps elevate and escalate women’s voices through promoting their artwork. Not only is Foragers a significant work by an important female artist, it’s also public art that anybody can come in and access without having to pay a fee.”
It was the Mint Museum’s 80th anniversary celebration and the 2016 Women of Abstract Expressionism exhibition that served as a catalyst for the formation of the Wells Fargo Foundation Women Artist Fund according to Everette. “We were beginning to formulate some of the strategies on this and through the exhibition discovered there were a group of other women artists leading the way in the movement. But they did not have gallery representation. They were not being picked up by museums after the abstract expressionist movement.”
Inspired, the Wells Fargo Foundation set about to address and help reconcile the imbalance of female representation in museum collections. “The Women Artist Fund was established three years ago, and we’ve been successful in helping to place and acquire seminal pieces of art in permanent museum collections across North Carolina,” says Everette. Other museums benefiting from the program include the Cameron Museum of Art in Wilmington, The Weatherspoon Museum of Art in Greensboro, and The Blowing Rock Art Museum in Blowing Rock.
Admirers of Summer Wheat’s Foragers, on display through September 6, 2022, will be pleased to note that through the generosity of The Wells Fargo Foundation Women Artist Fund, the artist’s work With Side, With Shoulder, a large painting where Wheat’s technique extrudes paint through wire mesh, has been acquired for the Mint’s permanent collection.
Mary Myers Dwelle, one of the Mint’s female founders would undoubtedly be pleased.
Foragers is part of the exhibition In Vivid Color: Pushing the Boundaries of Perception in Contemporary Art that opens Oct. 16 at Mint Museum Uptown.
Michael J. Solender is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, American City Business Journals, Metropolis Magazine, Business North Carolina, the Charlotte Observer, and others. He develops custom content and communications for businesses and organizations.
Tune In puts focus on where we’ve come as a society and where we are going … for better or worse
A larger-than-life outdoor diorama is coming to the plaza at the Levine Center for the Arts just outside Mint Museum Uptown. The 4,000-pound multidimensional diorama titled Tune In, created by local artist Richard Lazes and his studio team of fellow creatives at the Art Factory, is a sculpture of six stacked televisions from the 1960s in an enclosed room with wallpaper, pictures and linoleum that replicate a TV room of the time.
Tune In will be installed on Wells Fargo Plaza outside Mint Museum Uptown in tandem with the grand re-opening of the museum. The installation will be accompanied by food and live music during the Mint’s grand re-opening celebration. (Museums currently are grouped in Phase III opening guidelines. Re-opening dates will be announced when the latest guidelines from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper are confirmed).
Televisions in the installation display a collage of rolling snippets of media programming from the 1950s and ’60s, including news segments like the launch of Apollo 11, sitcoms and tv dramas, live musical performances by the likes of Little Richard and The Beatles. It’s a reflection of history that is mirrored in society today, as well as a display of media that has—and continues to—heavily influence the way people think and act. He hopes that Tune In stimulates conversations among viewers to consider where we have come from and where we are going as a society.
Lazes wanted to create a piece of art that put the pandemic crisis of 2020 and social unrest in some type of historical perspective. The massive sculpture was created by dissecting vintage television sets found in antique shops, and then assembled into a precarious formation indicative of the dysfunctional state of our society today. Six LED screens replace the old television tubes. In order to create content for the screens, he created a video collage mined from 100 hours of TV shows and news media during the 1960s to create iconic TV shows, great musical performers by the entertainers of that day and news clips of current events during that time period.
“It’s been 60 years since these programs were broadcast on TV and while video programing has become more politically correct it is unclear whether American culture and society has become any more fair and equitable,” he says.
Lazes recognizes that shows like “The Jeffersons,” “The Little Rascals,” Lucille Ball, and “Sanford and Son” were misogynistic, chauvinistic and racist, portraying a very shallow and prejudiced view of women and blacks. “These portrayals of minorities were indicative of that period. While we have moved a long way to a more magnanimous and politically correct viewpoint in our media, I wonder if our society has really changed in the way we treat one another,” he says.
But television programming of that period also brought families together to watch favorite shows.
“With the introduction of the internet, personal computers, and smartphones, we have become isolated and no longer came together with friends and families to take in a shared media experience. Perhaps a silver lining of the pandemic is that it has brought us back together as families to sit in front of the TV set as newscasters and politicians brief us on the status of the pandemic. With all of the discord and alienation in society, we are all in need of some introspection and a positive message so I hope that my sculpture will contribute to the healing process.”
Tune In is scheduled to travel throughout 10 cities, including Charlotte, Washington D.C., Boston, New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles. At each stop of the exhibit, Lazes along with co-director Aaron Atkinson will interview and film local artists to document how they are leveraging their creative talent to bring hope to each city. The documentary “Artists in Quarantine: American Creativity During the 2020 Pandemic” will showcase how creatives took their craft to showcase truth, justice and hope in a time of despair, and is scheduled to stream on Netflix in 2022.
“Through experimentation and our life experiences, we allow the creative chaos to take over and, eventually, we discover combinations of colors and materials”
Pioneers of disruptive design, the art of Fernando and Humberto Campana is strongly rooted in Brazilian culture and traditions, and carries universal values in its core, such as freedom and human dignity, by searching self-identity through life experiences. By incorporating the idea of transformation and reinvention, their creative process raises everyday materials to nobility, bringing not only creativity into design, but also Brazilian characteristics — the colors, the mixtures, the creative chaos — the triumph of simple solutions, in an artistic and poetic way, including the piece “Kaiman Jacare” that is part of Mint’s permanent collection and in the latest exhibition New Days, New Works.
Based in Sao Paulo, Estudio Campana is constantly investigating new possibilities within design: from furniture making to architecture, landscaping, fashion, scenography and more, and are represented throughout the world. Below the brothers share about how they work together, their creative processes and inspirations, and hope for the future.
Tell me a bit about yourselves and the type of art you specialize in.
We are storytellers, we like to bridge disciplines and try not to define ourselves by a particular type of art. Our mantra is to let materials “speak” to us, from which point we discover what shape and function it can take. Through experimentation and our life experiences, we allow the creative chaos to take over and, eventually, we discover combinations of colors and materials (many times overlooked by most designers) that tell the stories from that experience, artistically and poetically.
Where is your studio located?
Our studio is located in São Paulo, Brazil, in a neighborhood called Santa Cecília. Today it is considered a cool place, thriving with hype galleries, bars, shops and restaurants, right next to mom-and-pop shops, discount clothes stores, little hardware stores. When we started our practice there, back in the 1990s, it was considered a “no-go” zone due to the humble buildings and working-class population, but that’s exactly why we were attracted to it, for it was genuine and grassroots.
What’s it like working together from creation to execution of your artwork?
Humberto: Fernando and I complement each other very well. He starts from a bi-dimensional concept, making drawings, and often I bring that idea to life by researching materials, establishing a process, until it takes shape and comes into existence. I am interested in this process, and what happens behind the scenes, the role of the piece as it occupies a place in people’s homes. Fernando offers a distant gaze to my ideas, bringing a fresh outlook.
Fernando: It’s fair to say we have almost like a twin connection, certainly a spiritual one, although our thought process is different. When we are developing a new piece, there is an unspoken agreement between us, which is not always that smooth, but always with mutual respect. We also count with the support of our team at the studio, to help settle any standoffs.
What was your inspiration for Kaiman Jacare?
Our inspiration was the pre-historic animals, the dinosaurs. The idea was to create an oversized piece of furniture that resembles a tangle of giant scary creatures from that era. Each piece can be detached and reattached, allowing you to come up with several combinations. It’s a very comfortable, inviting, huggable composition, yet, it plays with the sense of being surrounded by these dangerous creatures, which we find quite provocative.
What is your favorite piece you’ve created?
Fernando: My favorite piece is still a very classic one, the Vermelha armchair, from 1998. We were fiddling around with different materials trying to come up with unusual upholstering when we picked up this roll of 500 meters of red rope and began to wrap it around a metal structure. It is our signature piece, produced by Italian manufacturer Edra, and part of several museums around the world.
Humberto: I am very fond of our Plush Toy collection (2002) because it has a deep connection with affection. It started as an experiment to find new ways of upholstering, and soon it transformed itself into this whimsical universe reminiscent of our childhood, the memory of a favorite stuffed toy, and the sense of protection and comfort.
How do people and your environment influence your art?
Fernando: These are an enormous influence for us, no doubt. We portray what we experience in our daily lives, especially in a country so culturally rich such as Brazil, with a unique viewpoint. Also, we grew up in the countryside, and nature was our main source of inspiration. Time had a different pace, giving us the chance to observe the landscape and animals in every season. That gave us the ability to pay attention to life as it unfolded. Once we moved to the city, we applied that same gaze towards people and their way of living, giving us a solid foundation for our design practice.
Humberto: Our work is like a snapshot of the world we experience. Places like the outskirts of São Paulo, Shanghai, the Amazon, the Sahara Desert, plus the people we encounter along the way. All of that fuels our imagination which is then materialized into objects.
Are you finding new inspiration for your art during these current events in the world?
Fernando: It’s been pretty hard to find inspiration, but I had the chance to travel to the countryside and the seaside during the quarantine, keeping a distance from the industrial world and immersing myself in nature. This period will gradually percolate and eventually, something will come out of it, creatively speaking.
Humberto: At the beginning of the quarantine, I was quite upset like everyone else. Aside from the tragic loss of life, we also have terrible leadership in Brazil. After a while, I began to come to terms with the fact I had to stay at home, and suddenly my house became my universe. I discovered ways of creating with what I had at hand, in the space I had. Lately, I have been doing collages and assemblages, and it has helped me a great deal to stay creatively active.
What positive-perspective changes in society would you like to see evolve from the protests, pandemic and social struggles of now?
Fernando: I would like humanity to be more respectful of the environment. And a more fraternal society, where we look out for each other. We had enough destruction, deforestation and pollution on this planet. It’s time we take responsibility for our actions and stop producing waste that keeps corroding our home.
Humberto: I think the world today is too divided. This antagonism doesn’t take us anywhere, it only leads to destruction with no clear way out. I wish people would become more united, have more respect and affection for each other, leaving their ego aside, so that we can find and follow a path to coexistence.
What are you reading, watching, and listening to these days?
Fernando: I just finished reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. I am also watching a few series on TV. One is called Girls from Ipanema which takes place in the ’60s, in Rio, during the Bossa-Nova years. I like to listen to all kinds of music, but Brazilian Popular Music (MPB) is always on top of my list.
Humberto: I have been reading articles about iconic designers and architects in English. I enjoy learning more about their life trajectories while reading them aloud and practicing the language.
Who are you following on social media right now?
Fernando: I am a bit of an outcast when it comes to social media. I don’t have any accounts on any platform. I am not attracted to this type of thing. I am much more interested in the real world.
Humberto: I am currently following Design Academy Eindhoven on Instagram (@designacademyeindhoven), from The Netherlands. I admire not only their outstanding conceptual design program, but also their intrinsic concern with training students to produce work in favor of a better planet.
Get a sneak peek of our newest exhibition New Days, New Works
5 things you may not know about artist Summer Wheat, plus a virtual tour of her Brooklyn studio
One silverlining of being quarantined at home is the opportunity to see and share experiences that we might not normally be able to experience. Enter our favorite new video pastime: artist interviews and studio tours. Mint’s Chief Curator Jen Sudul Edwards, PhD, joined Brooklyn-based artist Summer Wheat in her studio for a bit of show-and-tell on her technique and processes.
Wheat’s painting With Side With Shoulder is part of the newest New Days, New Works exhibition, and her atrium installation Foragers will be on view throughout the fall. Here are a few fun facts that we learned during Wheat’s studio tour.
- Summer Wheat is originally from Oklahoma City, OK, attended Savannah College of Art and Design, and has been living and working in Brooklyn, NY for the past 11 years.
- She has created in many mediums, from painting and sculpture, to even making custom salt and pepper shakers. Wheat says that she “likes the idea of taking a drawing and making it something usable.”
- Her creative process is two-fold: First, she always starts with a drawing, which she does alone and views this as an intimate space. Then she brings the drawing to the studio where she and her team make the ideas come to life.
- Her installation on the windows of the Mint Museum Uptown’s atrium will be her third large-scale piece using this material, and reminds her of stained glass. “I wanted to start telling stories in this format,” says Wheat, who is excited to tell impactful stories through visuals, color, and dimension.
- When the Mint opens, you’ll get to see not only Wheat’s atrium installation, but also her painted piece With Side With Shoulder that uses mesh in our newest exhibition New Days, New Works.
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Fiber artist Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi’s passion for educating through art leads her to curate We Are the Story
She thought she’d be settled into retirement by now, but Carolyn Mazloomi’s passion for her art pushes her to keep making, curating and working. Mazloomi, who earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California and worked as a pilot and Federal Aviation Administration crash site investigator, became involved in fiber artists and quilting in the early 1970s, and founded the Women of Color Quilters Network in 1985. She currently is spearheading and curating the exhibition We Are the Story, set to open at various sites throughout Minneapolis later this summer. The exhibition is a response to the death of George Floyd in the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
We Are the Story is a series of six quilt exhibitions by the Women of Color Quilters Network, and Textile Center created under the curatorial direction of Mazloomi. The series is organized around the themes of remembering those lost to police brutality, history of civil rights, and racism in America.
“I am an artist quiltmaker, and I like to tell stories,” says Mazloomi. “Most of the work I do deals with issues of race or status of women, and a lot of the work is somewhat controversial, but I hope viewers look at it and learn something and think about things and how things possibly could be.”
As a mother and grandmother, Mazloomi was rocked when she saw the video of George Floyd being pinned to the ground, and heard him cry out for his mother.
“It just shook me to my core. I cried for days because it was sad and tragic how he passed. But hearing him call for his mother personified the role of women in the sphere of the universe,” she says.
Mazloomi is a believer in the dynamic power of females, and has been involved in the economic development of women through the arts for over 30 years. Throughout her career of making textile art, many of her works showcase the women and their strong role in society.
“Young women need to know about the power they wield. As women, we are the first teachers because we give birth. We are the teachers of humanity. It’s a position that influences all of humanity,” she says. “The first word a baby learns is usually mama and it’s so strange that the last thing a human being may talk about when dying is their mother. They call on their mother.”
A self-proclaimed news addict, she listens to news while she works. Her quilts serve as a response to what’s going on in her environment, and the world, and is meant to evoke thought.
“My inspiration always comes from the environment around me. Currently the environment is very toxic, so I’m creating work about human condition — not just here in the United States, but of refugees around the world because women and children form the greater population of refugees,” she says.
When asked what she hopes to see evolve from the protests, pandemic and social struggles of now, she answers with the wisdom, patience and hopeful tone of someone who has weathered years of society’s injustice.
“Let’s deal with the pandemic first,” she says. “Because African Americans are disproportionately affected, they are dying more than anyone else,” she says. “Hopefully out of this pandemic, maybe it will help African Americans. They have health issues brought about due to racism because they don’t have access to good housing and healthcare, which plays into susceptibility to the virus.”
Thirteen people in the Women of Color Quilters Network died due to COVID-19. She and other members of the network collectively made more than 27,000 masks that were given to healthcare workers, nonprofit organizations, funeral homes and other places of need.
“When it comes to protests, I am happy to see protesters aren’t just African Americans, but a diverse group of people around the country,” says Mazloomi. “Anything that can prompt racial equality and justice in America is a good thing. Hopefully something good will come of these demonstrations, and our government and individuals will make efforts to be more civil to one another and see equality for all American citizens.”
Mazloomi was awarded the first Ohio Heritage Fellowship Award in 2003. Ohio Heritage Fellows are among the state’s living cultural treasures. Fellows embody the highest level of artistic achievement in their work, and the highest level of service in the teaching and other work they do in their communities to ensure that their artistic traditions stay strong. In 2014 Dr. Mazloomi was given the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Award, the highest award in the nation for traditional art. She was also inducted into the Quilters Hall of Fame Museum the same year.
Mazloomi’s quilt Gathering of Spirits has been part of The Mint Museum collection since 1999, and is set to be on view in the Schiff-Bresler Family Fiber Art Gallery at Mint Museum Uptown in February 2021.
‘Comics, graphic novels, and literature in general have always been a voice and vehicle’
A longtime teacher and supporter of the Mint Museum, artist Wolly McNair creates stories through his illustrations. McNair’s “Black Hornet” and “of Peace of War” illustrations were featured as part of the 2019 Never Abandon Imagination: : The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi exhibition at Mint Museum Randolph. He’s also has been an active instructor with The Mint Museum’s Grier Heights Community Youth Arts Program since 2009.
McNair found a love for drawing as a child, and received ample encouragement from his family. He created a business to include character design, story-boarding, animation, writing and illustrating for local and national companies. He self-publishes through his brand GOrilla Bred Publishing and currently is working on a couple of his own “intellectual properties.”
“One is a sorta of ‘what if’ story called Super Bastard. Every aspect of the name plays into the DNA of the story. It deals with the idea of power meeting endless power. What happens when the voiceless finally gain a voice and can enact real change by any means chosen. No more asking,” McNair says. “Using super heroes allows it to be entertaining while having a message and not become preachy. I think comics, graphic novels, and literature in general has always been a voice and vehicle to that can place people from different walks of life in the shoes of those they least relate to. See the stories and life of others, be it fantasy or reality.”
If that wasn’t enough, he’s also reworking his graphic novel Fairy Tale Knights that he wrote for his daughter after realizing there weren’t many comic books featuring Black characters. He also is working on a follow-up to his single-issue comic King Supreme. “It is more of a traditional comic in aesthetic feel, but nontraditional in some of its subject matter and content.” McNair shares more about his art and how art is a catalyst for change.
Tell us about the type of art you create.
My work is normally illustration based, but I often work both digital and traditional combining paint, markers, watercolor with digital colors to add texture. On a day-to-day basis, though, I work digital. Professionally I illustrate graphic novels, create worlds for character settings, concepts for characters in film, gaming, and comics.
My more gallery-based work is often larger in scale, and I typically do work that has lots of varied symbolism in it. Some things are literal, while other elements have a reason or meaning for placement. I often do several pieces in a small series with a central, connecting theme. Because I work in a character-driven world, and the world itself is but a stage full of characters, most of my gallery work also has a heavy character-driven base to it.
What do you want your art to say to America today, and what conversations do you hope it may spark?
The same as I would have probably wanted 10 years ago, and not just to America, but to the world. That we as a people (Black people or whatever term is considered appropriate) have a varied voice, have a beautiful hidden and forgotten history, and a terrible covered-up and watered-down history, and have influenced culture since there was such a thing. I want people to stop, maybe admire, maybe question, maybe reflect, maybe actually see … then ask questions, listen. Each piece, each series of pieces, all speak to different things, and I rarely completely explain my work cause lots of it is self explanatory, but I also want people to gather their own honest thoughts and start the conversation from there.
How do race, place, and your environment influence your art?
Race and environment have an influence because both are a part of who and where I am, have been, or plan to be. As the world changes or stays the same, so do the reflections in my art. But the history is always shared as I learn and grow, coming from the background I grew up in, that places a roll in detail, the way I may position elements of a piece, or what I may decide to speak on. Not only I am influenced by these things, I also try to use these elements of who I am and where I am from to influence others in a creative and positive way.
Are you finding new inspiration for your art during these current events?
Current events are actually the same events, just a different timeline. Many of the things happening have happened so many times before. Some of the “changes” are good to see, but mirror things of the past. I have hope that it will ultimately play out differently, and we are not right back here again. I still create, but I don’t want to create only as a result of another life lost, a continued struggle, racism or classism — I have over 400 years of history to use for that type of influence. I can, and do, create from that space without needing more of it. This doesn’t mean the fight is given up, it just means these events — good and bad — shouldn’t have to keep repeating. I’d rather get inspiration from seeing and knowing my kids won’t have to go through this and can live a happy life. Seeing them smile, not cry, not be afraid, not have to be strong would be so much more inspirational.
What positive perspective changes in society would you like to see evolve from the protests, pandemic and social struggles of now?
I just want to see a power shift. Power to the people. We already have a positive perspective or we wouldn’t keep getting up everyday, but I understand that those in true power have to come to an understanding, or no longer hold those positions, for the change to actually come and stay intact. I have seen people who only viewed life from where they sit come to realizations from my own personal conversations, and that was good to see.
More allies. I just want to see things handled better, artists of color given fair chances to speak and be properly compensated, voices amplified, corruption called out, and the people standing for each other instead of over each other.
How do you believe art can be a positive influence on kids?
Art helps kids find a voice. I teach kids to use it to express even if they don’t want to actually say the words out loud yet. Art helped me to write, and writing helped to add to my art and the stories I wanted to tell. Art allows an escape as well. It opens up the mind, and it teaches discipline for many — patience and perseverance. Most importantly, it allows expression. I simply think it is needed, maybe not for every child, but it can be a lifesaver or game changer for many. Even in simply teaching kids how art can be used daily, and the options that are out there, at an early age can help them figure out the path that works for them, and test options as they grow.
What are you reading, watching, and listening to these days?
I’m not reading much, other than the autobiography of Malcom X. I am listening to James Baldwin a lot lately, and Fred Hampton speeches, and Malcom debates and speeches. I go back to them from time to time. I have a stack of comic books and graphic novels that I haven’t read for mixed reasons, in part due to things I’m currently working on and not wanting to have any other creative elements that aren’t mine creep in.I listen to a lot of instrumental music, including Future Garage/Wave stuff — Nipsey Hussle, Lil baby. I listen to a wide range of things as I work based on where I want my mind to be. My son also creates his own music, so I listen in on it. My daughter is learning piano, so I listen to her. She’s self-teaching at age 9. They prove to me what is possible. I guess I am creating things that hopefully will aid others in the future more than anything.If I do watch anything, it’s the TV show Goodtimes, documentaries, an anime, or Property Brothers or something about buying or renovating houses. It is a different world for a few minutes per day.
Who are you following on social media right now, and why?
I follow a few people of course, but I honestly just float through looking at random things and seeing what catches my eye. There are tons of dope artists out there doing cool things.
HB2 Squirrels shake up expectations of social norms, shine spotlight on LGBTQIA+ issues
HB2 Squirrels, a pair of gender-symbol-wielding squirrels covered in multicolored war paint greet visitors in the main entryway of Mint Museum Uptown. The squirrels, part of The Mint Museum collection, pose a striking opposition to expectations of social norms and what one expects to be met with in a museum.
The HB2 Squirrels were inspired by North Carolina’s House Bill 2, commonly referred to as the “bathroom bill.” HB2 required residents to use the bathroom in public facilities that matched the gender on their birth certificate, launching a national outcry over civil liberties. The bill was criticized for impeding the rights of transgender people and other people in the LGBTQIA+ community who do not identify strictly within the gender binary, and was later repealed by N.C. Governor Roy Cooper.
Artist Michelle Erickson, outraged, took to her potter’s wheel. The result: two salt-glazed stoneware squirrels, grasping the gender symbols—one drenched in the colors of the American flag, the other in the colors of the LGBTQIA+ rainbow flag. “Congressional acts are temporary,” she says “but art is forever.”
The composition of the squirrels also was crucial. The squirrels face each other, seemingly holding their assigned gender symbols as weapons used to fight one another. The female symbol, a circle with a cross stemming down, is inverted and held by the squirrel to mirror the way the male symbol is held. Erickson said inverting the symbol was a call to uprooting the traditional view of women as a shield.
The color of the squirrels is also indicative of the message being sent. Both have rainbow colored lines covering their face and body. Erickson said she wanted to use the rainbow motif instead of the colors of the transgender flag, to place a gentle reminder that transgender individuals are included as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The squirrels also have different base bodies. The choice to make one black and one white was a conscious decision to ground it in societal tensions involving race, and to highlight the different viewpoints that stem from race within the LGBTQIA+ community.
When working with a new piece Erickson says she “allows the work to take [her.]” She starts with a design, but as the piece of clay is being shaped, it gradually takes on a new form. The overall product is as much a reflection of the process as it is the original idea.
HB2 Squirrels are a part of the past and present, she says, representing the processes of the Moravian potters, as well as speaking to the heightened political atmosphere surrounding LGBTQIA+ issues, and specifically the HB2 bill that was introduced in North Carolina in 2016. The resulting work of art challenged norms through revitalizing old processes and questioning societal implications.
The idea that became the HB2 Squirrels began as a study of a set of figural bottles from the 18th or 19th century. Erickson says the bottles originally intrigued her due to their lack of clear function and their unique construction. The bottles’ unglazed interior and overall shape indicated that they were made using a cast or mold. During her artist residency at STARworks, Erickson began using traditional techniques with salt-glazed stoneware to see if she could create a similar design. The original designs of the squirrels were modified to be reflective of the modern era.